Letter to City Officials
A version of this letter was sent by the Pacific Palisades Community Council Executive Committee on August 6 to Los Angeles City Council; Matt Szabo, city administrative officer; and Yolanda Chavez, assistant CAO, concerning the use of Will Rogers State Beach parking lot for temporary homeless housing. It has been reprinted here with permission. The full letter is available at pacpalicc.org.
The Los Angeles Times reported this week that a woman who was struck by a car and injured while bypassing a homeless encampment in Hollywood has brought a lawsuit against the city. She reportedly alleges that the tents blocking the sidewalk were a dangerous condition known to the city. An unhoused individual was also struck.
We have provided the city with ample notice of dangerous conditions on PCH vis a vis unhoused individuals with mental or addiction issues who frequent the Palisades beach and bluff areas and are repeatedly struck by cars—sometimes fatally—when the individuals jay walk or otherwise wander into traffic in the freeway-like conditions. This occurred as recently as last weekend in Pacific Palisades. It is the first duty of elected officials to protect public safety.
For City Councilmembers to sanction the siting of housing for the unhoused at the WRSB parking lot adjacent to PCH—knowing of these dangerous conditions—would be reckless in the extreme and an abdication of its responsibility to the public. At the very least, the city would be subject to liability for injuries caused by these and other dangerous conditions in the area of WRSB that we have brought to the attention of public officials.
Motion Before the Board of Supervisors
On August 10, the LA County Board of Supervisors will vote on consent on a motion by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn Barger (“Reducing the Risk of Fires Associated with Homeless Encampments in High Fire Hazard Severity Zones”). The motion calls for a prohibition on homeless encampments in the Very High Fire Severity Zone in Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas.
The BOS Motion declares: “[People Experiencing Homelessness] in unincorporated county designated VHFHSZ pose a clear and imminent danger demanding immediate action to prevent or mitigate loss of, or damage to life, health, property and/or essential services … To mitigate the risk of fires, LACoF should prohibit homeless encampments in Unincorporated County designated VHFHSZs.”
The entirety of Pacific Palisades, including WRSB, is in the VHFHSZ. The same compelling facts and reasoning underlying the BOS Motion are present in connection with this proposal involving WRSB—the fact that WRSB is in an incorporated county area is irrelevant in terms of the risk.
In our many letters, we have alerted public officials to the risk of wildfires not only to the unhoused themselves but to the entire region of the Santa Monica Mountains—including state and federal parkland—should homeless dwelling of any kind be approved and sited at the WRSB parking lot. City officials should be working to reduce the risk of wildfires by taking actions proposed in the BOS Motion in the city’s VHFHSZ areas and prohibiting homeless dwelling in these dangerous areas—not increasing the risk by actually sanctioning such dwelling in VHFHSZ areas.
Gov. Newsom Opposes Encampments in Public Parks
The Los Angeles Times reported on August 5 on an interview its reporters had with Governor Gavin Newsom. They report that the governor “expressed strong support on Thursday for increased efforts around California to remove large homeless encampments,” that he “made clear that tents along freeways and in public parks are not OK,” and that he “applauded the removal from camps in Echo Park Lake and Venice Beach,” while at the same time supporting more “humane processes” for removal and “creating more housing options.”
“‘You’ve got to be honest, this is not acceptable,’ Newsom said.”
To restate the obvious: WRSB is a state park used by millions of people of all walks of life from throughout the region and beyond. Newsom agrees that homeless encampments in public parks are unacceptable. He is thus in agreement with former Gov. Brown, Judge Carter, the LA Times, The People Concern’s John Maceri—and even with Councilmember Bonin, who publicly stated in his June 22 “note to neighbors” that “all Angelenos should be able to enjoy our neighborhoods, beaches and parks.”
In light of these strong public positions and the continuing, concerning events and threats to public safety, under no circumstances should the City Council approve of housing for the unhoused at WRSB. Again, no further time should be wasted on examining WRSB for this purpose. Let us all turn our attention to productive efforts to find humane solutions and to ascertain suitable, non-dangerous sites for homeless housing in Los Angeles—which surely exist among the thousands of public properties identified and currently being evaluated by Controller Ron Galperin.
Executive Committee, Pacific Palisades Community Council
David Card, Chair
Christina Spitz, Secretary
David Kaplan, Vice-Chair
Richard G. Cohen, Treasurer
John Padden, Organization
Joanna Spak, Elected Representative (Area 1; Castellammare, Paseo Miramar)
Tax Agents Bombard Appeals Board Hoping to Make a Buck
I’ve been trying to resolve an important issue since I was elected in 2014 that, I submit, is crippling the process by which property owners appeal the assessment on their property. In fact, it has created a huge backlog of more than 40,000 cases still waiting for a hearing, and that could take years to accomplish.
In no small measure, this situation has been caused by a handful of tax agents who file thousands of appeals—this year, 3,600 from one tax agent in a single month—that are without merit, withdrawn at the first sign of legitimate questioning or a no-show at the hearing.
Our tracking reveals that 70% of these frivolous appeals are withdrawn as soon as my appraisers challenge the claim. Moreover, the appeal will come to an unscheduled and screeching halt when the tax agent fails to appear at the hearing, which happens with alarming frequency.
I have to dedicate more than a dozen of my appraisers to handle these meritless cases who could otherwise be doing our primary work—processing transfers of property and new construction, which contribute to the Assessment Roll, the foundation of the property tax system.
For instance, the appraisers that are assigned to preparing assessment appeals cases for thousands of meritless appeals could be reassigned to process new construction permits. This year, 40,000 new construction permits will be delayed for processing until 2022. These permits have an estimate value of $4 billion, or $40 million in property tax revenues.
These funds will not be available to the county this year for public services such as police, fire, public schools and all kinds of infrastructure maintenance. It’s higher this year because of the COVID pandemic.
Historically, I delay 20,000 new construction permits annually because of this issue, which is $20 million in annual revenue that the county can’t use for public services. That’s a lot of money.
Essentially, these tax agents have monetized the assessment appeals process. They file a high volume of assessment appeals in hope that a smaller percentage will be approved without the necessary scrutiny, which is hard to provide when the system is overloaded by so many cases. I estimate that in hard costs the county loses at least $15 million annually in tax revenue. The lost “opportunity costs” are in the tens of millions.
The tax agents, on the other hand, receive 30 to 50% of whatever first-year tax reduction they get for their client. It doesn’t cost the tax agents anything to file these thousands of claims that they typically secure through mailing solicitations to unsuspecting homeowners.
These very same homeowners are experiencing a huge boost in their home’s value. Yes, small businesses have struggled, many forced to shutter, but the housing market has been booming. The average single-family residence has increased 22% over last year in the average home price, cresting at median of about $817,000.
However, most of the appeals are for residential properties. That’s right, when homes are rising, tax agents say home values are plummeting. It just isn’t the case. Not even close.
I have a possible solution. Something that many other counties in the state already have: A $46 filing fee, along with a hardship exemption if a homeowner cannot afford the nominal fee.
As an example, the 3,600 claims filed by one agent since July 2 would cost $165,600 in fees. I bet they would think twice about incurring such a cost, if it was required. Now, it costs them nothing to file. Nothing.
By introducing the $46 filing fee, logic dictates tax agents will be much more discriminatory when deciding what legitimate cases to submit. Otherwise, I won’t be able to get my job done, legitimate appeals cases will go unheard and the assessment appeals process will continue to be overwhelmed.
One last thing, which is very important, I am committed to making sure that property owners are getting fair and timely resolutions to their disputes without rogue players consuming my office’s resources for their own personal gain.
Los Angeles County Assessor
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